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All the signs positive for Chiefs

IAN SNOOK
Last updated 07:52 28/02/2013

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OPINION: With the Black Caps battling away in the background, Super Rugby blasted on to the local stage on Friday night with a cracking game between the Chiefs and the Highlanders.

The five-month slog has commenced and the standard required has been laid down in no uncertain terms.

In New Zealand it was skilful, in South Africa it was brutal and in Australia it was awful. Long may it continue in the same vein.

Things slowed down alarmingly on Saturday evening with the Hurricanes demonstrating just how unnerving it can be if you are actually the favourite to win a game, allowing a Blues team full of powerful individuals to gather their confidence and bring smiles to the most publicised franchise of 2013.

The big question is whether this highly acclaimed leadership group of John Kirwan, Graham Henry, Mick Byrne and Kirwan's mate, Grant Doorey, along with captain Ali Williams, can mould this explosive group of individuals into a hard-nosed team that can win the tough games?

All the hype and verbal emanating from the far north is positive and well thought out. The big test now will be whether the words become actions.

Kirwan and Doorey haven't been winners in their coaching careers but Henry and Byrne know success, so it will be worth following. Already proving they are smarter than any other coaching group are Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry at the Chiefs.

Under plenty of pressure heading south to play inside the high- pressure cooker in Dunedin, they were too skilful for a Highlanders team that many expected more from. The confidence displayed by the Chiefs and the execution of many aspects of the game, showed that the other franchises will have some catching up to do.

Jamie Joseph now has to demonstrate that he is more than just a great motivator and produce a game that can threaten and win against the big boys.

Assistants Scott McLeod and Jon Preston have both been All Blacks and talk intelligently about the game but we all know there is far more to coaching than a pleasant bedside manner.

For them, this is a huge opportunity, although one suspects there is still plenty to learn. The real leadership at the Highlanders will need to come from within, with Andrew Hore joined by All Blacks team-mates Brad Thorne, Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu.

What these guys produce will be the telling factor, especially with so many youngsters showing out in week one and as each year gets tougher rather than easier. Will these leaders keep up with the pace?

Last season Mark Hammett and Conrad Smith easily won over the Hurricanes squad members and an angry public with a number of positive performances.

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Success this season will be based around whether or not the results are better than 2012 and the way things started there will be plenty of nervous management in the franchise.

Assisting Hammett are Alama Ieremia and Richard Watt, two local lads who have been on board for a few seasons.

For them it will take every trick they know to get this group into the playoffs.

The first performance suggests that this will be a hugely difficult task.

The Crusaders haven't kicked off yet, but Todd Blackadder is talking it up. He has made changes in the coaching panel, Dan Carter has lost the vice- captaincy and the fans are apparently going to see sweeping changes in their playing style. It has taken four seasons but it sounds as though he is now doing things his way.

Tabai Matson, Aaron Mauger and Dave Hewitt are the assistants, all good Crusaders men in their time.

If nothing else this will be interesting season tracking the leadership styles and success, or lack of it, with the Chiefs already looking like New Zealand's best. We'll find out in August!

Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.

- Taranaki Daily News

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